the graphic design blog that speaks the truth

A statement that I have read many times recently, in both books and during online discussion, is that for a logo to truly be considered ‘great’ it must be ‘clever’. And by clever I mean include some kind of play on words, a witty pun or if you want to hit the jackpot include some kind of hidden imagery. I have to say that I completely disagree with these sentiments. Here’s why…

The FedEx Effect

Let’s take an example and put it into practice. In a way I like to think of the trend of including hidden imagery in the design of a logo as ‘The FedEx Effect’. If you have an interest in logo design you will no doubt already know that there is a hidden arrow created by the negative space between the ‘E’ and the ‘x’. If you didn’t already know that, then this is a very important day in your life. Second only to the day you were born. Once you’ve seen it, you’ll never miss it again.

The current trend seems to be that most designers think they have to incorporate a hidden image or even an almagamation of two images in every single logo design that they create for it to be considered a ‘great’ logo. Personally, I blame logo inspiration websites for this increasingly shared viewpoint.

Batfish Lovers

A great logo (in my opinion) should be strong. Not in the sense that it should comprise bold imagery or even sharp angles or heavy line weights. Strong in the sense that it makes a connection with the viewer. That connection doesn’t have to be emotional, or even have the ‘wow I see the hidden image now!’ factor. The best way to make a strong connection is if the logo design is memorable. That way it will stay ingrained on the minds of the viewer, which is obviously a good thing for any new logo design. For example, combining a bat and a fish is memorable, but probably not for the right reason. If you’re designing for a brand name such as ‘batfish’ then you probably have to look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself am I really designing here? Or am I just illustrate a word or a combination of words? That’s if the logo is even for a real client.

Remember who you are designing for

Don’t get me wrong, hidden imagery and clever puns in logos can be a powerful way to help make them memorable, and if it will definitely help the projection of the brand name then it can be an advantage. I just feel that forcing yourself to find a clever solution every time not only hinders creativity but in a sense it plays into the hands of what is now becoming a trend in itself. And we all know it’s best to stay clear of trends. his trend is not only effecting the idealism of practicing designers or students but clients too. As a result of thousands of ‘clever’ logos being showcased on these logo inspiration websites I often find that I get inquiries such as ‘I want one of those logos that has some cool second image hidden in the negative space’. What follows next is pretty much explaining to the potential client the exact same points that I make in this article. T

Keeping it simple can be clever too

You also might notice that most of the well known logos in the world are not ‘clever’ as such. There’s no hidden burgers in the McDonald’s golden arches and there certainly isn’t a coronated cheeseburger in the Burger King logo. Most of the well known logos we see every single day utilise simple, timeless imagery, which is what I feel makes them far more memorable and powerful than any clever visual trick.



  1. 28/04/11
    4:02 am
    Well known corporate brands don't need visual tricks.
  2. 05/09/11
    11:24 am
    Great article. I must say you're right about the clever elements in logo design.
  3. 21/10/11
    4:16 pm
    I think the hardest part of logo design is remembering to keep it simple. I tend to over complicated designs then end up going back to simplify. I don't think visual puns are necessary for a good logo, only it's ability to be memorable and last through time.
  4. 21/11/11
    10:19 pm
    Agree with all of this–but why not have a 'smile in the mind' too–a good idea is surely a bonus, but agree, not an essential? Sometimes it's relevant sometimes it's not. the rule of design is there are no rules. (Oh dear, did i really just to a naff Fight Club quote?).
  5. 28/11/11
    9:20 pm
    @Dan Well known corporate brands don't start out well known.
  6. 10/02/12
    8:14 pm
    I get clients too who look for a clever design more than any other characteristic. That's what they remember most but it's limiting in many creative ways. Great points here. I often feel the minimal simplistic logos get ignored on websites.
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